Making Sense of Your Emotions When Your Team Loses

Why does it hurt that the Broncos were humiliated and embarrassed in the Super Bowl?

I shut the TV off in the third quarter, when the score was 30-something to 0. I felt completely deflated—like a balloon that had lost all of its air. But I didn’t lose the Super Bowl, the Broncos did. So why do I take it so personally? I didn’t play badly—they did. They are absurdly well-paid athletes (nobody has offered to pay me millions of dollars to do what I do). And it’s they that lost, not I.

So why do grown men get drunk when their team loses, and then beat up their wives, girlfriends or children because their sports team loses? (Historically, the day after the Broncos lose a Super Bowl, social workers from Child Protection Human Services are inundated with referrals from school nurses with children who have bruises or broken bones, and domestic court judges have their dockets loaded with domestic violence cases—usually women who have been pummeled by a man overcome with anger and rage because his team lost.) Granted, this is not unique to Colorado, but still, what causes us to react so emotionally—and so reactionary—to our beloved sports team losing?

A large number of fans treat their sports team as a spiritual and transcendent experience. They spend countless hours studying the team’s strengths and weaknesses, watching games, buying jerseys and other paraphernalia, screaming their heads off in the stadium or at the TV, rejoicing in the team’s victories, dismayed by its defeats—but always hopeful and optimistic for the chance to go all the way. To win. To become world champs.

The reason we personalize this so much is that we assign to our team attributes we want in ourselves, and your team becomes both a metaphor and a symbol for the larger story of your life.

Most of us spend our entire lives questing to be the best at something, striving to win a job promotion, or recognition for outstanding work, or the love and devotion of a person we covet, or enough money to live comfortably—in essence, to achieve our own personal “super bowl-like” dream. We spend our lives striving to achieve so we can prove to the world (and ourselves) that we are not just good, but that we are great.

But so often an error, a misjudgment, a poor decision, a market reversal or bad luck intervenes—and our goal is fumbled away and our dreams are intercepted—so we lose what we were striving so valiantly to achieve, or at least we have to overcome a major setback.

It was not only Payton Manning out there attempting to be the champion. In some inexplicable way, it was you attempting to be the world champion also. The gold metal winner. Someone who sets his or her goals high, and then achieves them. A true real-life champion. And when the Broncos played poorly and lost, it reminded you of all of your own losses, your failures, your disappointments and your failed dreams—slip-sliding away.

But you are resilient, and you will bounce back. And hopefully so will the Broncos—next year.

Whether you recognize it or not, you were not only rooting for the Broncos. You were also rooting for yourself.

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